We know how important it is for all children to see, learn about, and interact with role models who represent them and reading about strong figures in the black community is one way to meet this need for children of color. Similarly, for all children who don’t often experience diverse communities, books can be one way to expose them to the variety of ways passion, leadership, and integrity manifest. From historical figures who have achieved great accomplishments to fictional characters who embody the identity and experience, the following books are a selection of suggestions that can be used to expand your child’s reading list on black history and experience.
PART 1 – FOR EARLY READERS
You can find Part 2, our list for independent readers, here.
Something Beautiful by Sharon Wyeth
Suggested Ages: 3-7 years
A little girl longs to see beyond the scary sights on the sidewalk and the angry scribbling in the halls of her building. When her teacher writes the word beautiful on the blackboard, the girl decides to look for something beautiful in her neighborhood. Her neighbors tell her about their own beautiful things. Miss Delphine serves her a “beautiful” fried fish sandwich at her diner. At Mr. Lee’s “beautiful” fruit store, he offers her an apple. Old Mr. Sims invites her to touch a smooth stone he always carries. Beautiful means “something that when you have it, your heart is happy,” the girl thinks. Her search for “something beautiful” leaves her feeling much happier. Join her as she experiences the beauty of friendship and the power of hope.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Suggested Ages: 4-8 years
Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: he will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
Suggested Ages: 5-10 years?
Clara, a slave and seamstress on Home Plantation, dreams of freedom—not just for herself, but for her family and friends. When she overhears a conversation about the Underground Railroad, she has a flash of inspiration. Using scraps of cloth from her work in the Big House and scraps of information gathered from other slaves, she fashions a map that the master would never even recognize.
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
Suggested Ages: 6-8 years
This picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world’s most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Doreen Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a captivating narrative to tell the story of his life. With stunning art by acclaimed illustrator Bryan Collier, Martin’s Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed America, and the world, forever.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson
Suggested Ages: 6-10 years
The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration as well as unwavering courage. This is the story of the men, women, and children who toiled in the hot sun picking cotton for their masters; it’s about the America ripped in two by Jim Crow laws; it’s about the brothers and sisters of all races who rallied against those who would dare bar a child from an education. It’s a story of discrimination and broken promises, determination, and triumphs. Told through the unique point of view and intimate voice of a one-hundred-year-old African-American female narrator, this inspiring book demonstrates that in gaining their freedom and striving for equal rights, African Americans helped our country work towards achieving its promise of liberty and justice—the true heart and soul of our nation.
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